J Street’s new regional field organizer urged local followers to seize on current headlines to push for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Amy Levin’s May 1 appearance at Maplewood Memorial Library on behalf of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group came during a week in which the Arab League endorsed a Middle East peace plan allowing for agreed-upon land swaps.
“Your timing is kind of amazing. In the last two days, there has been a sea change in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process,” said Paul Surovell, chair of South Mountain Peace Action, which hosted her talk. “Last week, the two-state solution appeared to be dead; today it is more alive than ever.”
Levin, who lives in Brooklyn and is based in New York, called on those present — about 40 people, most of them Jewish — to press for the renewal of the two-state process.
“Change comes from the ground up,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to speak out.”
She pointed out that Qatar’s prime minister, speaking to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on behalf of the Arab League, said for the first time that the league had eased its demands that Israel return to the 1967 borders, suggesting “the possibility of tweaking those borders with a comparable and mutually agreed ‘minor swap of land.’”
The Israeli Prime Minister’s office welcomed the Arab League’s support for “the diplomatic process,” but also said that Israel was ready to restart negotiations immediately without any preconditions, and that the “two sides can present their positions in the negotiations.”
In her talk, Levin stressed the importance of “engaging with those whom you disagree with” and conducting a “vibrant but respectful debate” with regard to Israel.
“Strong and vibrant debate has characterized the Jewish tradition for millennia,” she said. “That’s why we believe it is necessary to engage with those with whom we disagree. We’re bringing more pro-Israel, pro-peace activists into the community.”
Levin referred to polls showing that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians consistently support a two-state solution. “Yet when both sides are asked if they believe the other side supports a two-state solution, that number is significantly lower,” she said. As an “honest broker,” the United States has the ability to provide political cover for both parties, she said, with the ability “to bridge gaps and forge compromises.” But political will is needed to move forward.
“I know that many of you are here because you are committed to peace, in all of its forms and contexts,” she said. “Let’s not stay silent when our president is calling on us to take action…. Change, he said, lies in the hands of the people, especially young people.”
Levin, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, earned her master’s degree in religious studies from New York University. She joined J Street after working as a field organizer in Florida for the 2012 Obama campaign.